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Opportunity knocks for five forwards

Sport

Feature
Mike Finnerty

MANY are called but few are chosen.
Such is life for the club players who dream of breaking into the inter-county world.
For the last month James Horan and his management team have been working with an extended panel that will ultimately form the Mayo squad for the upcoming National League.
Of course, the vast majority of the players who will get game-time during the spring will be the usual suspects, but there will also be some ‘prospects’ and ‘project players’ who will get a chance to be the next Eoghan McLaughlin, Oisin Mullin or Tommy Conroy.
The selection process for these hopefuls began in mid-November when 34 of them (from 19 clubs) were invited to a ‘combine’ in the Connacht GAA Air Dome. This consisted of ‘physical testing, skills assessment, tactical sessions and a game’ we were told.
For those who made the cut, the next steps in their journey has continued since with training sessions in Bekan, Westport and Castlebar in recent weeks.
Next Friday evening some of them might get another chance to impress against Galway in the FBD League semi-final, back under the bright lights of the Air Dome.
Here we pick out five young forwards who are among the new players trying to force their way into James Horan’s plans for the coming season.

Fionan Duffy
Crossmolina
VERY few club forwards in Mayo can run up tallies consistently like the Deel Rovers man.
From open play and frees, Duffy was deadly accurate in last season’s Intermediate championship (racking up 1-16) and was one of the main reasons why Cross’ reached the quarter-finals.
An All-Ireland winner as a Mayo minor (2013) and Under-21 (2016), Duffy was back to his best with Crossmolina last season.
He looked fit, sharp, confident and his striking of the ball was superb, more often than not.
Whether he can raise his game to senior inter-county level remains to be seen, but it won’t be for the lack of trying from Duffy or his club-mate, Ciaran McDonald, who is sure to be working closely with him.

Owen McHale
Belmullet
IT was hard not to be impressed by the swashbuckling McHale as Belmullet powered their way to a first County Senior Final for 40 years.
His all-action style and dynamic approach made him a key man in Damien Mulligan’s game-plan, and he showed himself to be the quintessential modern half-forward against the likes of Breaffy, Westport and Knockmore.
McHale was also part of an extended Mayo senior panel at the beginning of last year and Maurice Sheridan utilised his skill-set for the Mayo Under-20s last season too.
A student at the University of Limerick, McHale is Under-20 again this year and may well be juggling commitments with two county squads in the coming months.

Justin Healy
Cill Chomáín
THE 23 year-old forward lit up the Mayo Junior club championship last season as he led Cill Chomáin to a county final appearance against Kilmeena.
The captain was unmarkable at times during the club’s march to the final, and shot three points that day despite being ‘double-teamed’ and ‘triple-teamed’ at times by the West Mayo men. He also delivered three points in the semi-final win over Shrule/Glencorrib, and 1-2 against Ardagh.
It was no surprise then to hear that Healy was invited to the Mayo trials last month, and impressed James Horan enough to be kept in the fold for at least the coming weeks.
Working in the Mfitness Gym in Belmullet means that fitness, strength and conditioning isn’t an issue for Healy, and he’s also the sort of inside forward who could just give Mayo some more options.

Colm Moran
Westport
FOR one reason or another the talented corner-forward hasn’t featured for Mayo since the National League campaign of 2019, but he showed during last Autumn’s club championship that he’s one of the best finishers in the county.
The 23 year-old was outstanding the evening that Westport knocked Ballina Stephenites out in the quarter-finals (in front of a watching James Horan).
He scored five points from play at a rain-soaked Bekan, and looked a class act.
He also led the line against Belmullet in the county semi-final, on a day when Westport’s attack found the going tough, but Moran managed to shoot four points from play.
A Mayo Under-20 in 2018, the left-footer looks to have a lot of the raw materials needed to add something to Mayo’s attacking reserves.

Conor McStay
Ballina Stephenites
THE tricky playmaker caught the eye in 2020 in the knock-out stages of the club championship, and he showed last season that his form with the Stephenites was no flash in the pan.
The diminutive half-forward is very assured on the ball, and comfortable playing off both sides. He also has a lovely side-step, can pick out a pass, and take a score.
Just like his father, Paul, and uncle Kevin, did for years with both Ballina and Mayo.
McStay’s form in the club championship against the likes of Davitts, Claremorris and Westport earned him a call to the ‘combines’ and his particular skills are something that Mayo squads have lacked in recent seasons.

 

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